How to Homeschool in California: 3 Questions to Ask
Nearly 3.5% of students nationwide are homeschooled. Now, I’m as much of a lover of statistics as any educator. But seriously, what does that figure tell us about how these parents are teaching their students? There are a ton of options available, but no clear-cut guide to figuring out what will work best for your family. Luckily for you, I’ve designed this guide to figuring out the how behind that 3.5%. The answers to these three questions will help you to decide how to implement your passion for home education in a way that works for your student.
How to Homeschool: 3 Questions to Ask to Help You Decide
First Question: What Options Do I Have For Homeschooling?
What’s great about California is the state is super flexible when it comes to our options. There are three general categories of enrollment: private homeschooling, charter participation, and online programs.
You can establish your own private school. This is done through filing a private school affidavit each October. A form on the California Department of Education website walks you through the process. Establishing your own private school gives you ultimate educational freedom. The curriculum, school calendar, grades, and field trips are all up to you. The only oversight is a recommended portfolio. This way, you have documentation of each child’s progress should it be asked for by the state. Technically, the state can request to see your school records (including attendance). However, I’ve never heard of anyone being asked to show the goods.
Private homeschooling is required to fulfill state standards. What’s great is that as the administrator of the school, you can choose how it’s done. It’s also your responsibility to produce grades and transcripts. This includes creating a high school diploma for graduating students. But, in some cases, colleges might not accept homeschool diplomas as proof of graduation. For example, the UC system has a more involved application process for homeschooled students that received a non-public school district diploma. The simplest way around this technicality is to take the admissions test. This can be simpler since it avoids in depth questioning and the burden of proof.
For the CSU system, admission requirements aren’t as clear cut, according to the Admission Handbook for 2016-2017. The guide states that privately homeschooled students’ individual applications may be reviewed to ensure that they meet admission requirements. This sounds a little scary! But with consistent record keeping through the high school years, all subjects should be covered well enough to meet course requirements.
Homeschooling Through a Charter
The second option for homeschool in California is through enrollment in a charter program. There are both private and public charter schools. Each has its own requirements for admission. Charters are unique in that they offer guidance and curriculum planning, but the parent educator is primarily responsible for record keeping and daily teaching. We enrolled in a charter program that serves families throughout California. There are endless options depending on your location and campus accessibility.
Many charters offer funding for curriculum and supplementary activities. The availability of funds, as well as the specific amount, will vary with each program. Charters also tend to offer on campus classes, for students who are interested. A social aspect is built in, which is not guaranteed with private homeschooling. That’s not to say that guided extracurricular activities are required for socialization, though. Still, charters often provide a sense of community in addition to support in teaching core subjects. In our area, Visions in Education is convenient, since they have a campus local to us. Other local charters include the association of Pacific Charters, which has campuses throughout the Sacramento and Stockton areas.
Charters will supply guidelines for state standards and curriculum suggestions or requirements. They mostly function on their own school calendar with attendance and grading required. However, I know a number of families that homeschool with charters and practically unschool their kids, with their teacher’s approval. I have yet to encounter this opportunity, although our certified teacher is fairly hands off as well. Veteran homeschool parents will tell you, your satisfaction with any one program will depend heavily on the teacher that you’re assigned to. For us, that hasn’t been an issue thus far.
The final option in California is online schooling. Both free and paid programs exist, though I haven’t encountered an option that offers any funding or extracurricular support. Connections Academy is one prominently featured option in a basic search. Be warned that if you request their free program guide, they will continue to proffer services until you unsubscribe or enroll. K12 is another program I frequently see advertised on local cable. It also claims to be fee-free, and offers community based events and field trips as well. Time 4 Learning is yet another option commonly discussed in homeschooling forums. It apparently runs at a standard monthly cost of $25, though discounts seem to be offered frequently.
Second Question: How Much Guidance Do I Want/Need?
New to Homeschooling versus Self Sufficient Student
Different programs over varying levels of oversight (and regulation). Families new to homeschooling might consider a program with an abundance of support and oversight. This can aid in the transition from public to home education. You might be testing the waters with a kindergarten student, and are unsure what path to take. Charter and online programs often have guidelines for how and what to study. They can offer curriculum suggestions or require adherence to specific programs. If you’re unsure what your student’s strengths are, it can be worth exploring various curriculum to figure out what speaks to him or her. In our charter, curriculum samples are available at the school’s main campus. I’m able to peruse resources before ordering any materials, which can be quite helpful in finding the right fit.
Considerations for Students With Special Needs
For students with special educational needs, it can be a hassle to find private services (and pay out of pocket) for diagnostics or therapy. Charter programs that function within public school districts have those resources readily available. Most charters will work closely with you to establish, or integrate, an IEP. Homeschooling already caters to individual learning needs, so students with special needs have extensive opportunities for progress and adaptation.
Scheduling and Costs
If you like to keep a flexible schedule and teach outside typical school days and hours, you’d do well to avoid charters and online programs. Privately schooling lets you dictate when, where, and how subjects are covered. Charters and even online programs require specific attendance. This can be pesky if you’d rather be on the road when everyone else is not! Just note, registration is still required if you decide to privately homeschool (or unschool), since California maintains that education is a state matter.
Then there’s the issue of finances. Curriculum, should you choose to go all in, can be horribly expensive. Our charter program offers funding for specific educational purposes (textbooks, art supplies, designated field trips), for a total of $1800 per school year. This allows us to take advantage of programs and services I didn’t even know about before! Pacific Charters offers $2500 per school year with their Rio Valley campus, though other campuses don’t appear to list specific amounts.
That said, homeschooling doesn’t have to be expensive. I am, however, of the mindset that if public schools receive funds for my child’s enrollment, he should he receive a cut of the money too. Obviously, the funds are only dispersed for specified educational supplies and events.
A Sense of Community (and Supervision)
If you’re like me, and are painfully antisocial when it comes to meeting other parents, a built-in social option could be beneficial. Charters, as well as some online schooling options, frequently offer get-togethers and on-campus classes for students. My son’s program, for example, offers classes in our area so kids can learn alongside one another. They also host a kickoff park day each school year so families can socialize. Plus, I have access to my son’s certified teacher throughout the school year. Our program has monthly teacher meetings, where we do a progress check and she answers any questions I have. I enjoy having a sense of connection to the school through our teacher. Plus she gives great advice on learning strategies for my hands-on kiddo.
Third Question: How Do My Kids Learn Best?
I’ve always been a bookworm (thanks Mom & Dad!). I much preferred solo desk work to joining groups and engaging physically. As a homeschooling parent and lover of life learning, I recognize that not every student learns best by cracking open a textbook. Particularly wiggly six year olds like mine.
My favorite thing about homeschooling is the level of customization for each student’s learning style. For the bookworm (or tech oriented) kids, online programs can be a simple way to complete coursework quickly and move on to other interests. There isn’t excess classroom time spent going over details that might be boring to these students. Working pace is set by each student, and he or she can take as much time, or as little, as necessary.
Kids that enjoy a hands-on experience will love manipulative tools, outdoor exploration, and messy science experiments. Both private homeschooling and charter programs can be beneficial for these students. Sitting still isn’t a requirement unless attending a specific on campus class. Throughout our homeschool day, we have the luxury of taking breaks and reworking subjects to suit our visual learner’s needs. He definitely doesn’t have to sit at a desk all day, and my ability to teach isn’t affected by the location of our learning.
For kids like first grade me, working in groups could be a source of stress. For other kids, working alone might by abysmally boring. With private homeschool and charters, it’s up to the parent’s discretion how often kids work in groups (or not).
Now that we’ve clearly covered how to homeschool, are you proud to be part of that 3.5% that do?
I know there’s a lot to consider about homeschool. It can sometimes feel like a part time (or full time!) job. What’s so awesome about homeschool in general, is the ability to switch it up. If schooling through a charter doesn’t work out for us, there’s always the private option. If my kids want to get all their work done online when they’re in high school, we’ll go that route.
I know a dad who has three homeschooled kids, and uses a different program and teaching format for each. The beauty of schooling at home is we get to make those choices based on our children's best interests. Click To Tweet
That might change next week, next year, or ten years from now. What I love about the process is it involves learning alongside my kids. We’re on this journey together, so I’m more than just their tour guide!
Just to be clear, I’m not affiliated with any of the above recommended resources or programs 🙂